(Transcript continued from the Episode 138 show notes and audio podcast)

This Week in Internet Marketing News

A quick news item for you today. Search Engine Land is reporting that Google Chrome (the web browser) is going to start reporting more security violations if there is mixed form content on your website that is not HTTPS. I don’t want to get into all the technology around what they’re going to report and what they’re not going to report. I just remind you that it’s really getting increasingly important that if you have a website out there that you convert it to HTTPS.

You’ll recall, as I described in Episode 114, this is a technology that makes your website information secure as it transfers across the internet between your web server and your reader’s browser. It encrypts that conversation between your server and your reader’s browser. Increasingly Google has said that this is important, they’re going to start penalizing websites in various ways that don’t have secure content.

One of the ways they’re going to start to enforce this soon is for certain important parts of webpages if they’re not secure HTTPS they’re going to throw a warning in the browser. The last thing that you want is someone cruising through your content and they click on a page where you’re trying to collect their email address or something like that, and instead of having opportunity to give you their email address or buy your product they get a silly warning that says your content is not secure. That’s not going to give your readers a good feeling about your website.

Go back to Episode 114, check that out, and consider converting your site to HTTPS. It’s really not that hard and it is getting increasingly important that you do that.

RankBrain and SEO Tips

I wanted to talk a little bit about RankBrain. Google came out at the end of 2015 and they said there are three ranking factors that are most important.

The first thing is content. We’ve talked about what’s in the content and what makes that important, there are a lot of subfactors that I put in the content ranking category, like title tags, keywords, and things that are inside your content, as well as the length of the content and so forth. There’s good content structure, making sure that you have good title tags that organize your content and let people know exactly what it is that you’re talking about. Basically, Google is trying to make sure that you’ve got good well structured content that is really helpful to readers.

The second thing has always been one of the most important things are links. Who is talking about your site and are the people that are referring to your site authoritative, are they people that are important themselves, and does the fact that they’re talking about your site mean that your site must also be important. That’s the second thing is links.

The third thing has been a signal from this algorithm that Google calls RankBrain, which is an artificial intelligence algorithm that tries to look at your content and determine what it is, what it’s about, and whether or not it’s important. I think one of the strengths of RankBrain is that it can see words or phrases that it doesn’t really know about and it can make pretty good guesses as to what the words have in common with and use the ranking intelligence that it has from other keywords to help it decide what content to return for these new search queries that it doesn’t really know how to handle. We talked about that in a previous episode, how something on the order of 15% of all queries are new, I think we decided it was hundreds of millions of queries a day.

RankBrain helps to do that, but the Google algorithm itself has hundreds of ranking factors that make it up and RankBrain is just one of the most important ones. Like most things with Google, we don’t know a super huge ton of things about RankBrain, except to say that it is based on artificial intelligence, it’s a learning algorithm that theoretically gets smarter in time. If you’ve done Adwords, it’s probably based on the engine that was determined the page quality.

Most of us who have run Adwords ads are familiar with the idea that landing pages that you drove traffic to using Adwords are generally assigned a quality score. That quality score was determined automatically and it is believed that RankBrain came out of this code that was used to automatically assess the quality of landing pages. The idea there being that Google did not want to sell ads to crummy content, because the way they present them it made it seem like Google was sending you to crummy content. If your landing page was not of high quality, according to Google’s algorithm, they would charge you a lot more for the ads than if you sent traffic to a really high quality landing page.

It has been said that you can’t really optimize for RankBrain, because it’s an artificial intelligence algorithm, or what we call a deep learning algorithm. The learning is relatively unsupervised, that means that the rules are changing. There’s this really famous quote by Danny Sullivan out of Search Engine Land where he talks about the fact that he has talked to Google engineers about how RankBrain works and he’s had Google engineers tell him that they don’t even really understand how it works. It’s one of these things where neural networks are formed in software and these things change, it’s modeled after the human brain, which we also really don’t understand how it works.

This conversation has been going on since the end of 2015 and some things have emerged that seem to influence RankBrain, so what I wanted to give to you today are a couple tips on how you might think about starting to modify your content to help it rank for this increasingly important thing called RankBrain.

One thing that the guys over at Wordstream seem to think is important with regard to RankBrain rankings is click through rate. If people are clicking through to your content the RankBrain algorithm seems to give your content even more weight.

This whole idea of click through rate affecting your Google ranking is a well known phenomenon, and in fact you can buy some kind of grey hat SEO services that will crowdsource clicking on your listings in Google. That has shown to be very effective. If you have something at the bottom of page one and you want to take it up four of five spots, you can pay a reputable SEO service and they will crowdsource searches and clicks on your search result, Google will see that signal and they will drive your page up in the ranking factor.

We know that’s in the algorithm and that is thought to be in RankBrain, so that’s an important thing. I don’t necessarily advocate that you go do this crowdsourced click thing, although you certainly can do that. I’d be careful where I did that, that’s not something I would do on Fiverr.

I definitely think that you can improve your click through rates, as we have discussed many times, by paying careful attention to your description in the search engines. That description tag is not used for keyword analysis or any of the traditional SEO factors, but it is something that your searchers are using to decide whether or not to click on your ranking.

Same thing with your domain name and URL. If you have a nice, clean, non-spammy looking domain name with a nice keyword rich and relatively short URL that matches what the user is looking for, and an excellent page title that entices the user to click, remember those things are essentially sales copy for the click in the Google search engine. If you have those things then your click through rate will be higher and that will in turn cause your rankings to be higher. That’s one of the factors that we think is important in RankBrain.

As far as I know this second thing is more of a theory, I haven’t seen strong data to support this. One of the speculations is because RankBrain is an artificial intelligence algorithm it is recognizing popular patterns that it sees. If you have a website in your niche that dominates the topics that you’re writing on, the example that is sited often for this is WebMD, if you have a site on a medical topic, if you adopt a format that is similar to WebMD that could help your site be associated, if it’s a site that looks like WebMD it must be authoritative like WebMD, that sort of thinking.

The data on that is less clear to me, but it does make sense to me that if you want to compete with WebMD you should adopt some of their best practices in the way that they present their content. Since RankBrain is looking at that, it makes sense to me that they would associate the strength of WebMD with the way the WebMD content is presented. So that’s the second thing is to take cues for the way that you organize your content from competitors on the web who are very successful and organize your content similarly.

The third tip I’ll give you for RankBrain is one that I’ve given you before. That is you really need to stop targeting a single keyword for articles. You want to use the keyword that you’re targeting – in your brain you’ve decided you’re targeting the keyword blue suede shoes – but you need to not use that keyword over and over in the article. Instead, what you want to do is what real writers do, which is they try not to use the same phrase over and over again, because it sounds funny when you use the exact same words over and over again in conversation or in an article.

What you want to do instead is use all of the related words to blue suede shoes. You want to talk about the fact that these are excellent covers for your feet. That’s a silly synonym for shoes, but you get the idea. You want to use all of the rich language that you can, you want to be using the words that people who are talking about blue suede shoes are usually using.

That’s going to help you with something like RankBrain where they’re going to be looking at the semantic relationship between the words that you’re using in your copy. I think that’s an increasingly important thing and something we’ve been talking about now for a couple of years on this show, we don’t want you keyword stuffing, we don’t want to use the keyword that’s in your brain for the article more than once or twice in the article. What I do want you to do is use a lot of words that are directly related.

Those are three tips that will help you rank inside of RankBrain. Make sure your descriptions in search are really good, make sure that your websites have a format that RankBrain can recognize as authoritative, and make sure that you do your keyword presentation in your article in a modern way and don’t stuff your article with the same keywords over and over again. If you’d like more information on RankBrain, my inspiration for this segment and a lot of the initial research that I did was out of an article on Search Engine Land by Nate Dame. That’s a good place for you to get started on this topic, just like I did.

Dealing with Messy Middle to Get Stuff Done

A topic that I wanted to tackle today is this idea of the messy middle in the projects that you’re working on. The messy middle is a phrase that I’m stealing from Michael Hyatt, it’s something that he talks about all the time.

You set these goals for whatever it is that you want to do and when you first do this goal setting activity you’re very excited because you can imagine the outcome. When you first start off on a project, usually there is a flurry of activity and you make a lot of quick progress and you can see what’s going on, you’re making plans and you’re doing things to visualize what the outcome is going to be, so you feel energized and excited, it’s fresh and so forth. Then after awhile, and I think this particularly true with annual goals, your enthusiasm starts to wane, you encounter obstacles that you weren’t expecting, things are harder than you expected, they’re taking longer than you expected, and all of a sudden you find yourself in the messy middle of whatever this thing is that you’re trying to accomplish.

A lot of us never make it out of the messy middle. What we have when we don’t make it out of the messy middle are something that I refer to as unfinished projects.

There’s a book I read some time ago called A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller, and he tells a story in the book, as an analogy to this sort of thing, about a boat trip where you’re paddling and you leave the shore. When you first leave the shore you feel excited because the shore is close by and you can see how much progress you’re making because the shoreline is getting further and further away.

Eventually, you’re far enough away from the shore where you’re just surrounded by water, you’re paddling and paddling and it doesn’t seem like you’re going anywhere. It’s hard to gauge your progress and your enthusiasm for paddling across this water has been diminished, because you just can’t see the progress and maybe the water is a little choppier than you thought it would be, you weren’t expecting that, and there’s a headwind. All of this conspires to cause you to lose your enthusiasm for this canoe trip across the lake.

I think we all face this. I am the champion of unfinished projects. I have started and not finished more websites, just that one thing alone, where I get this amazing idea for a website, I go out and buy the domain name, I install WordPress, I get going, and four or five weeks later I’m in the messy middle and that project doesn’t get finished. Back in the day when I was building many websites and had over 100 domain names up and running, I had lots of unfinished websites with unfinished content.

You’ve even see me do this on the podcast several times, where I’ve talked about projects and then I don’t get them finished. I’m in the middle of a couple of projects right now and I’m trying to especially pay attention to that and make sure that they do indeed get finished, because this is something that I’m very sensitive to in my own work. This is definitely for me, and I hope if it’s a problem for you, too, that I can offer you a couple of tips about how you get through the messy middle.

I used to hear Lynn Terry over at Clicknewz.com talk about her way of dealing with driving through the messy middle on projects and she would advise coaching clients to work from start to profit. That’s one of my favorite phrases for internet marketing projects and that’s one of Lynn’s phrases that I’m stealing from her here. She’s talking about this idea that when you start a project you want to work on that project until you make it profitable and not get distracted by the seven other opportunities that come up, this kind of bright shiny object syndrome.

So my first tip for you with regard to making it through what Michael Hyatt calls the messy middle is once you’ve committed to a project, stay focused on that project and try to say no to other opportunities. This can be very hard. I will give you an example in the spirit of complete transparency.

This year I’m doing this course on affiliate marketing. I am doing that, it is significantly complete, there is a significant amount of it that is already done. I put that project on hold to take advantage of this opportunity that I had to work on this ecommerce site, because that’s something that I’ve always wanted to do. The rationalization that I used was that in this ecommerce course I was going to learn a ton about Facebook advertising and that was something that was part of my master plan for the affiliate marketing course.

We’ve talked a little bit about this before, but one of my major goals for having the two courses that I plan to release this year out there is so that I can use the proceeds from the sale of those courses to run Facebook ads to sell those courses, therefore increasing my reach and my list here at Late Night Internet Marketing.

That’s my plan, but the truth of the matter is that I didn’t know anything about Facebook ads, or not anything worth knowing. I have run Facebook ads and, as I’ve joked many times, I was very good at spending $1.00 to make $0.90 or $0.75. That’s a thing I needed to fix, so I rationalized this ecommerce course because I knew I was going to learn about Facebook ads. And that is actually true. I know 100 times more about Facebook ads already than I did two months ago.

But, now I’m deeply in the messy middle on this affiliate marketing course. Progress on that course has slowed and I am going to have to get back to that once I finish the course that I’m taking. That’s a really good example of how I failed to stay focused.

What I’m telling you to do is not what I do, but what I say. Stay focused when you’re in the messy middle on the project that you’re working on and drive it, like Lynn Terry says, from start to profit.

One of the things that Michael Hyatt says that I also like is that when you start inspiration is great for starters and you’re going to have that, but after that perspiration is the key. Stay focused and do the work.

I think the second thing you can do to drive through the messy middle when you feel like you’re getting stuck and you’re not making progress, you’re starting to slow and you’re de-motivated, is recommit to the project. Go back and understand why it was that you’re doing what you’re doing and re-decide that this is important and that you’re really going to do this. Try to find that original motivation that got you excited and actually recommit yourself to the thing, dig back in and just emotionally reconnect with the project. That will help you to drive forward.

A lot of times we lose sight of why we’re doing a thing or what motivated us to do it in the first place. This is one of the reasons that I always suggest you understand your why for everything that you do, particularly for part time business. When it comes to these dark times like the messy middle, you’re going to want to reconnect with that to give you fuel to drive through.

Having the fuel is one thing, but I think it’s also important to reaffirm your commitment to the project and to say, “Yes, I’m still going to do this. I’m still planning on doing it, this is the plan. We’re going forward,” and to re-look at your schedule for moving forward and recommit to that.

There are various ways that you can do that; by scheduling appointments on your calendar to make the next steps in the project, but getting an accountability partner to help you stay accountable for the next part of the project. Just recommit, reinvest, reenergize. That’s the second thing that I recommend that you do with regard to getting through the messy middle, dig back in.

The third thing that I think you can do here is one of the things that I did, change the plan. You had this goal and you probably had a plan for how to execute. One of the reasons that you might be stuck in the messy middle is that things that you didn’t anticipate could have happened.

There’s this very famous quote from Helmuth Von Moltke, the Elder from the 1800s, this guy was chief of staff of the Prussian Army. He said, and I think it’s exactly right, “No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy.”

In your case the enemy is just life. What Helmuth is saying is that whatever it was that you thought you were going to do three months ago when you started this project, you’ve come in contact with the enemy and your original plan is probably no longer valid.

It’s okay. Revisit the plan, make a new plan. The objective is still the same, to finish the project, but you may need to revise the resources that you need, or the approach that you’re taking, the time commitment that you have, or some other part of this plan in order to get through this messy middle and get to your objective. So that’s the third thing, change the plan. It’s your plan, you own it. I give you permission to change your plan.

As long as what you do is to make a plan that is better able to get you to your objective, I think that’s absolutely fine. Maybe changing the plan means that it takes a little bit longer. If I told you that you were going to get there but that it was going to take an extra month, you’d probably say, “That’s fine. It’s a 12 month project anyway. I’ll go ahead and make it 13 and I’ll be thrilled.” Don’t worry about the fact that your plan may take a little longer, it may cost a little bit more if you can swing that, just go ahead and revise the plan and recommit to that plan.

I think this works really well with idea number two, you can commit to a new plan and combine these two to really help you get through the messy middle.

Those are my three tips for getting through the messy middle. I think when Michael Hyatt talks about this kind of messy middle thing one thing that he recognizes is that occasionally you have to punt, as he says. You have to decide that this goal that you set, the reason that you’re stuck in the messy middle is that it’s no longer appropriate. Either your why has changed, you no longer really want to do this, or the reason you were doing it is no longer appropriate or no longer matches you overall goals, it’s not a fit with what it is that you’re trying to accomplish, you’ve lost your passion for this perhaps. Or it could just be that along the way you’ve discovered things that you didn’t know before that make this goal either unattainable or inappropriate.

If this is the case and you do an honest assessment of whether or not this thing that you’re trying to do is still what you want to do, I think it is okay for you to decide to quit, to do something else, but you need to make sure that it’s for the right reasons. I don’t want to encourage you to give up on things that you really should be doing. What I’m saying is that just because you said you were going to do a thing doesn’t mean it’s still a good idea. I think it’s okay for you to reassess whether or not this is still a good idea and punt if it’s no longer a good idea for you.

I think it’s important from a mental load standpoint that you really do quit, meaning that you go ahead and set your mind free of guilt and the other things that come from quitting a project, and decide that you’re stopping this because it’s a business decision that you’re making and not because you’re a quitter. If you can really say that and free up the mental energy that you’ve been using worrying about this project that you’re stuck in, I think sometimes that is appropriate and will help you get on to the next thing and be more successful.

These are my three tips plus a bonus tip for how to make it through the messy middle. I hope if you’re stuck in the messy middle of something that will help you and you’ll be able to recommit and move forward to your goal.

Wrapping Things Up….

That wraps it up for this week’s episode. I hope that was helpful to you. I continue to plug away with the Shopify store that I’m working on. I am definitely in the messy middle of that project. I think this is very typical of internet marketing projects, where you’re basically looking at a sales letter about how you’re going to be drinking frozen drinks on a beach in a few weeks because of the zillions of dollars you’re going to make with whatever the venture is. All of these things are marketed that way. Then you get in there and realize there are many ways to fail and the amount of work that you need to do is much.

That is the messy middle where you hear this voices that are wondering whether or not you’re doing the right thing and so forth. You have to push through that and have some success. I have had already some very amazing success, my store is in great shape. I think I mentioned last week, I have 30 products in there now. Things are looking better, but I haven’t retired to a beach in the Bahamas quite yet, so I have a lot of work to do.

Come to find out in this program there are three major phases. The first phase sort of gets you to a high five or low six figures sort of phase and then there is a second phase where they try to get you up to seven figures. I’m nowhere close to six figures on this store yet, but I think it’s a very interesting way to describe a course, the goals are lofty. What’s interesting is that people actually seem to achieve them. I continue to plod along and I’ll keep you guys posted as I go.

Until next week, I hope you have an amazing week. I’ll talk to you on the other side.

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